Guessing Sony's U.S. strategy

The company recently announced a trio of smartphones and a new tablet, but will they matter in the United States?

Sony Xperia T
Sony's new Xperia T Stephen Shankland/CNET

Sony used the the IFA tech extravaganza in Berlin this week to introduce a trio of new Android-based smartphones.

Called the Xperia T, J, and V, they run the gamut from low-end to top-tier and should be enough to tide the company over until CES in January. In addition to the three handsets, Sony also unveiled its Android-powered Xperia Tablet S, a remodeled and improved update to its previous Tablet S.

Big time stuff for our international friends, sure, but what about us in the United States? Will we see any of these devices?

While most U.S. consumers are familiar with Android offerings from Samsung and HTC, Sony has been putting out smartphones running Google's for a few years, some of which have carried the Xperia name. Unfortunately for us statesiders, though, many of these handsets are only available in an unlocked, full-price manner. So why have very few U.S. carriers offered subsidized Sony models? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

A look back
History tells us that Sony will keep plugging away with smartphones for Europe and international markets with very little regard to U.S. buyers. But to be fair, that history is largely from the days of Sony Ericsson and not the more streamlined company that was unveiled in early 2012.

After Sony bought out the other half of the joint venture, it promised an accelerated "convergence between network enabled consumer electronics products." And looking at the numerous devices that have since featured PlayStation Suite, Video Unlimited, and other services, we see that Sony has delivered on that front. If only it had promised closer working relationships with carriers, then we might be really getting somewhere.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S Sarah Tew

And looking forward
At first blush, the new trio of Sony Xperia smartphones sound similar to HTC's One series of handset. With a little something for everyone, the Xperia J, V, and T would work well if deployed across multiple carriers. Yet, while the flagship Xperia T could rival the hardware of most Android devices on the market today, it may be about six months late to the game. Will that matter?

I've noticed that a very small subset of Android users and enthusiasts buy devices strictly based on the specifications. Instead, many consumers buy based on what the phone does, how it looks, and how it can make life easier. Thing about it, if everyone bought smartphones solely on the hardware there would be far fewer iPhones on the market.

Sony, for its part, is smart to continue to fold in all of its services and work toward a branded experience. When paired with the Xperia T hardware, it's hard to argue a case for anything else.

My druthers
Were I given the chance to speak directly with Sony, I'd suggest releasing the Xperia T in the United States with one or more carriers. Rather than going to one carrier for a six-month exclusive, take a page from Samsung and give it to multiple providers at once, keeping the name intact. That way, consumers can be conditioned to appreciate a singular, annual release and will happily look forward to the next big thing. And down the road, Sony could sprinkle an Xperia J or Xperia V for another demographic.

With HTC struggling, Motorola largely quiet, and LG barely absent, the U.S. market needs a strong No. 2 competitor. The time is now for Sony if it hopes to gain any momentum against Samsung. My gut tells me that we'll get the Xperia T later this year once the latest James Bond film, "Skyfall," debuts in theaters. As for multiple carrier support, however, I don't see it happening.

Xperia Nexus
Google is rumored to be working with up to five partners for its Nexus line, one of which is Sony. What's more, with recent reports suggesting an Xperia Nexus at NTT DoCoMo later this year, we might assume the same for the United States.

Should this be the case, we could see a top-of-the-line Sony product with the latest release of Android come time for us to hang stockings by the fire. Even if there are other companies working to do the same, Google will undoubtedly promote the lot of them in the Play Store.

So many questions
I'd love to hear what you think of Sony and its Android ambitions. Do you see anything particular in the new models that excites you or that you would like to see come to your wireless provider? What would you say to Sony if given the chance?

 

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